Filipino immigrants are a rapidly growing group in many Canadian cities: there are almost half a million Filipinos in the country. In many ways, they are distinct: recent studies have highlighted their increasing dependence upon the Live-in Caregiver Program, their difficulties finding work in their occupations, and the implications of long periods of separation upon their families in Canada and the Philippines. Last year, the Vancouver Sun ran a four-part series on Filipinos in Canada, which they dubbed “The Filipino Factor”. This weekend the Globe and Mail featured a two-page spread, now that the Philippines outpaces China and India as the main source of immigrants to Canada. In my view, the distinctive patterns of Filipino immigrants make them an ideal case study that can teach us about immigrants’ integration, labour market participation and survival strategies.

As many of you know, my dissertation focuses on Filipinos’ housing and transportation choices in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), where over 170,000 Filipinos live. I’m rapidly nearing the end of my four years in the PhD programme at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning, which means I’m finishing my study and getting ready to publish my results. I have found that Filipino immigrants display a remarkable resilience in their housing and transportation choices. It’s the same resilience that is portrayed in the media: Filipinos come from a country with far less economic and political stability than Canada, and they are willing to work hard to succeed here. They do experience significant barriers to their integration, if we’re talking about the labour market. But socially, they must be one of the most integrated groups in Canada: they are very spatially dispersed and do not form ethnic enclaves. They are also experts in community-building: Filipinos have established hundreds of non-profit, community, and advocacy groups in Canadian cities. These groups help new arrivals find jobs, train for new careers, and adjust to life in Canada; they are often staffed by both paid and volunteer Filipinos. Prominent Filipino researchers Dr. Nora Angeles and Dr. Aprodicio Laquian have done research in this area; Nora is currently an Associate Professor at SCARP and Prod is a Professor Emeritus at our school.

In my own research, I have seen that Filipinos’ lower homeownership rate and higher transit commuting rate can partially be explained by their flexibility: they make practical choices depending on access to transit and the location of their workplaces, their children’s schools, shops and services. They move back and forth between owning and renting, driving and transit use, depending on changes in their families and careers. These choices mirror their experiences in the Philippines, where many lived in dense, mixed-use communities with access to transit. Of course, their choices are also shaped by structural changes in housing policy, immigration policy, and the labour market over the years.

We can’t ignore the issues faced by growing number of Filipinos who work far below their education and skill levels, or the policy shifts that have made things more difficult for recent arrivals (Dr. Phil Kelly at York University has written extensively on this subject). In the 1990s and 2000s, immigration from the Philippines increased markedly, and many of these new immigrants entered under the LCP rather than Skilled Worker or Family Class immigration categories. It will take these more recent immigrants longer to find jobs in their professions than earlier immigrants, and during this time they work long hours and have difficulty studying for recertification; many have college diplomas or university degrees from the Philippines that Canadian employers and professional associations do not recognize. However, in the face of these changes in immigration policy and the labour market, Filipinos’ resiliency strategy serves them well. Because they remain flexible and mobile in their housing and transportation decisions, they are able to adapt to changing situations, like divorce, training for a new job, or offering a room to recently-arrived family members when they arrive in Canada.

Why all the fuss about Filipinos? After all, we’re a multicultural society…why focus on one particular group? Because Filipinos have higher than average rates of education and are fluent in English, but are not able to work in their professions, which means they often have lower than average incomes. For example, over the years, Filipinos’ jobs in finance, insurance and real estate have changed to jobs in manufacturing and the service sector. Filipinos seem to be more affected by changes in immigration policy, such as the LCP. Their resiliency strategy towards housing and transportation choice may be unique. For these reasons, a case study of Filipinos may be instructive to researchers studying immigrants’ housing, settlement, and labour market patterns.

This week, I’ll be presenting my work at the National Metropolis Conference here in Vancouver. I’m looking forward to seeing other researchers in urban planning, geography and sociology who are studying how immigrants settle into Canadian cities. Metropolis Canada is part of an international network of researchers on immigration and migration, and there is also an annual conference in Europe each year. The best part is the diversity of academic researchers, community researchers, non-profit housing providers, immigrant service providers, and of course students who come to the conference to share their research and best practices on immigrant integration. I’ll never forget my first Metropolis conference last year in Montréal…let’s hope Vancouver can be as much fun!

It seems that I may no longer have to answer the question, “Why are you doing a case study of Filipinos?” Ever since the 2006 Census showed that Filipinos were the largest immigrant group entering the country, there has been increased interest in the status of the Filipino population in Canada, with a major focus on those who have entered the country under the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). It’s gotten to the point that to say you’re working with the Filipino population is to invite harassment at parties by people wanting to know why nannies aren’t allowed to bring their family members to Canada with them (an excellent question, but one outside of my field of study).

In June, the Vancouver Sun featured a special five-part series on Filipinos in BC, trying to paint a broader picture of the Filipino population than their reputation as “nannies and maids”. However, the articles succeeded only in painting a somewhat grim picture of the challenges new immigrants face, even well-educated Filipinos who are usually fluent in English. Many of the more recent Filipino arrivals came to Canada on temporary worker visas. This program started in 2001 and was intended to fill labour shortages in technology, such as jobs in the burgeoning oil sands in Alberta. It was then extended to all kinds of other areas such as nursing, trucking, construction, fast food industry, and retail. There have been complaints about the program as it is vulnerable to human rights abuses, although some temporary workers may now apply for permanent residency after two years. Still, as I found out during my fieldwork in Toronto, Canada offers a better deal than other countries: it takes ten years to qualify for residency in Germany and in Saudi Arabia, it is impossible to get permanent residency. There are many other challenges for newcomers, which is why many choose to move to the major cities, where substantial Filipino populations, cultural associations, and community groups can provide support.

As many of you know, my dissertation focuses on the housing and transportation choices of Filipino immigrants in Toronto. I am particularly interested in how these choices have changed over time as the city grew and changed. What kinds of jobs did new immigrants find when they entered the country? Where did they live? How did they travel? Structural changes in immigration policy have played a key role in these choices, such as the introduction of family class sponsorship in the 1970s, the creation of the LCP in the 1980s, and the temporary worker category in the 2000s. I will be writing more on my dissertation topic as I finish up my data analysis in the next few months.